Exile From Ithaka – OCTOBER 2020

Poseidon, the god of the sea, storms and horses, was given the epithet The Earth Shaker as the ruler of earthquakes. In the Trojan Wars, Poseidon sides with the horse-rearing Trojans in defending their city against the Greek onslaught. Odysseus incurs the god’s enmity on his journey home for blinding the Cyclops, Poseidon’s son. The enraged god sends tempests and storms against Odysseus’ ships ensuring the Greek hero will have a long treacherous journey home to Ithaka.

The Odysseus myth may contain some actual elements of truth. Due to its unique geography, Kefalonia (believed to be Ancient Ithaka) lies close to a major tectonic fault. Here the European and Aegean plates meet on the sea-bed, so the area has always been prone to seismic movements. Poseidon, as the ruler of earthquakes, would be a natural adversary to the ancient island kingdom.

For modern day Kefalonia, there are other possible parallels to the Odysseus story. In 1953, a massive earthquake hit the island, wiping out most of the island’s standing buildings and destroying Argostoli, the main town. Only a couple of villages in the very north were spared from the destruction. The ruins of old mansions and farm buildings can still be seen littered across the whole island. The earthquake itself prompted a mass exodus of Kefalonians across the globe to places like America, Canada and Australia searching for new homes and livelihoods.

But there is also a tradition of return. These Kefalonian exiles, even after the passing of many years, will eventually journey back to their island birth-place. Like the mythical hero Odysseus, these home-comings, humbling to witness, are a source for great joy but also deeply embedded within the island’s psyche.  

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